Underemployment, Overemployment, and Mental Health

Living reference work entry
Part of the Handbook Series in Occupational Health Sciences book series (HDBSOHS)


This chapter focuses on the difficulty locating work that is consistent with one’s needs, abilities, values, and interests and its consequence for workers’ mental health. More specifically, the concept of “volition” is entered in research on mental health consequences of working hours. Volition, in this context, means the degree to which workers are able to work their preferred number of working hours. To describe work hours that are not in line with one’s preferences, the concepts of under- and overemployment are used. Firstly, a short literature review on under- and overemployment conceptualizations and measures is given. Afterwards, three relevant empirical questions are answered: (1) whether the length of the working hours is a determinant for mental health or whether the involuntary nature of working hours is harmful to mental health; (2) whether family- and work-related resources are important for the health impact of under- and overemployment; and (3) whether a narrower interpretation of “volition,” comparing solely the discrepancy between actual and preferred working hours, is a determinant of health. In this chapter, it becomes clear that the conceptualization and measurements of under- and overemployment are extremely heterogeneous. Moreover, it is hours mismatch rather than the actual number of hours that is detrimental for health.


Health Well-being Working hours Mismatch 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Interface Demography, Department of SociologyVrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselBelgium
  2. 2.Research Foundation FlandersBrusselsBelgium
  3. 3.Institute of Medical Sociology, Medical FacultyHeinrich-Heine-University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Morten Wahrendorf
    • 1
  • Jian Li
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Medical Sociology, Centre of Health and Society (CHS)Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Medical FacultyDüsseldorfGermany
  2. 2.Fielding School of Public Health, School of NursingUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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